KINGSTREE — Catholics from around the Diocese of Charleston officially will be able to make spiritual pilgrimages in South Carolina after Oct. 8.
On that day, Bishop Robert J. Baker will inaugurate the ministry of the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina — Our Lady of Joyful Hope, located in a renovated church building in the historic Williamsburg County town of Kingstree. The inauguration will be held in conjunction with the diocesan Rosary Celebration.
Father Stan Smolenski, director of the shrine, said the building itself has already been consecrated and blessed. The ceremony, which will begin at noon, will officially transform the building’s ministry from a parochial one to a shrine ministry. The building was a former parish church.
Jesuit Father Mitchell Pacwa will be the homilist at the ceremony. He is a popular host on the Eternal Word Television Network, a Catholic cable channel based in Alabama.
Bishop Baker signed a canonical decree establishing the shrine on March 7. The decree stated that the shrine had been created “in order to increase veneration for the Blessed Virgin Mary and to provide more adequately for the spiritual welfare of the Diocese of Charleston.”
Bishop Baker also noted in the decree that the anniversary of the shrine’s establishment would be observed on the Sunday following the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7.
Father Smolenski said the shrine will differ from many others in the United States.
“Very few dioceses have a shrine that is under the auspices of that diocese,” he said, noting that in the United States, most shrines dedicated either to saints or to Mary are run by specific religious orders.
The icon of Our Lady of South Carolina — Our Lady of Joyful Hope was composed and designed by Father Smolenski, created by Father Larry Lossing of the Diocese of Orlando, and formally blessed at the diocesan Rosary Celebration in October of 2003. Before being sent to Kingstree, it was housed at the St. Katherine Drexel Volunteer Residence on Wentworth Street in Charleston.
The icon features an image of Mary holding the infant Jesus, set against a background of bright blue. Mary is holding a rosary, and Jesus is holding a chalice topped by the Eucharist. To the right of Mary is a palmetto tree.
Three Scripture readings are featured: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27), “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29) and “The just flourish like the palm tree” (Ps 92:13).
Father Smolenski said his role as director of the shrine, which has included overseeing the church’s renovation, holds special spiritual significance for him.
“It’s a fulfillment of a childhood dream for me,” he said. “Shrines have been part of my religious life since I was a child, and I had always wanted to do religious work in the context of a shrine.”
Father Smolenski said that the shrine is significant because it will allow the faithful to contemplate Mary’s role as mother of the church and her importance to South Carolina’s Catholics.
Kingstree was selected to be the site of the shrine partly because of its significant part in the history of Catholic evangelization, according to a history of the site written by Father Smolenski. Kingstree was the hub for two apostolic ministries run by Father Patrick Quinlan and Father Patrick Walsh.
Father Quinlan, who originally came from Connecticut, spent several decades teaching residents of mainly rural Williamsburg County about Catholicism. He established chapels in small communities and divided his time among them, attending to their needs.
Father Walsh developed a “church-on-wheels” ministry designed to introduce Catholicism to residents of small towns in the Southeast, where most residents were Protestant and unfamiliar with, or suspicious of, Catholicism.
Father Walsh was eventually given land on the outskirts of Kingstree. The building on that property was once used as the Dominican Retreat House of Our Lady of Springbank, and is now the Christian Center for Eco-Spirituality.
Catholics in Kingstree and the surrounding area worship at St. Ann Parish, which was founded in 1947 and has a membership of 47 households. Kingstree has a population of about 3,800.